Other Voices on Arkes
I enjoyed Susannah Black’s testimonial to Professor Hadley Arkes (“Might and Right in the Pioneer Valley,” Summer 2016), and I salute him on retirement.
But she said: “To think there are people out there who believe Professor Arkes to be a conservative.” Well, he is, and I for one am forever grateful he introduced me to conservative thought, a guiding principle of my life.
I was adrift with an aimless thesis about the Russian Revolution my senior year at Amherst, when Professor Arkes brought to my attention that a Communist Party (Lenin’s “vanguard”) was utterly foreign to Marxist theory, and perverted socialism necessarily into totalitarianism. He turned my thesis, and my life, around. I owe him a lot, and ran across him years later during my time as a pro-life lawyer in New Jersey.
Mike Pelletier ’71
I quite enjoyed the piece on my favorite Amherst professor in the Summer 2016 issue. A poli sci major, I took every course Professor Arkes offered. His brilliance was and is undeniable. What remains with me, after some 39 years, is his sense of humor. One cold and extremely snowy February morning, I made my way to the Gerald Penny ’77 Cultural Center for Professor Arkes’ class. This was before coffee. Of a class of some 25, nine of us made the Doctor Zhivago-like trek to the Octagon. After a suitable wait for any potential stragglers, he began with: “If 10 are enough for God, 10 is good enough for me.”
I still use that line when only 10 gather together. Thank you for a reminder of how much this great man meant to all of his students.
Ken Olena ’77
(and, yes, another lawyer)
The recognition and praise of Professor Emeritus Hadley Arkes by those like Susannah Black ’99 whom he inspired over his many years of service to the Amherst community must be balanced with acknowledgment of the fact that there are many members and supporters of the LGBTQ community who suffered, sometimes irreparably, under the lash of the strident homophobia that Arkes proselytized on campus, in the media and in front of federal legislators and Supreme Court justices. Acknowledging this reality does not tarnish his career; his own bigotry does.
David Dorwart ’70
Mansfield Centre, Conn.
While it’s understandable that, in her tribute to her mentor, Political Science Professor Emeritus Hadley Arkes, conservative Christian commentator Susannah Black ’99 would gloss over criticism of Arkes’ adamant pro-life stance, it is unconscionable that she fails to mention his abominable preaching against same-sex love and relationships. No invocation of “natural law” and “moral realism” can disguise the fact that Arkes testified to Congress in favor of the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act and has authored so many articles opposing same-sex marriage as to make one wonder if he wishes that the Inquisition would be born again.
As Idalia Friedson ’15 so clearly laid out in her Amherst Student opinion piece of April 10, 2013, Arkes’ assertion “that the matter [gay marriage] should even be arguable, or treated as plausible, is already the measure of a culture that has lost its moral coordinates, or even its clarity of mind” is as unsupportable as his suggestion on March 26, 2013, in The Catholic Thing that allowing same-sex marriage is the moral equivalent of permitting a man in Maine to marry his 37-pound dog, Lady. He took another tack in his April 14, 2015, article in First Things, when he opened the old “from this to anarchy” floodgates by suggesting that legalizing same-sex marriage would pave the way for the return of polygamy, “throuples” living in retirement communities, the marriage of father and son, and [fill in your favorite shock stereotype here].
In her paean to Arkes’ teachings, Black may wish to sweep both his absurdities and LGBTQ people under the rug. But we who have experienced the transcendent beauty and inherent rightness of same-sex love will not remain silent as Arkes continues his crusade in the name of Terras Irradient.
Jason Victor Serinus ’67
Port Townsend, Wash.
In her encomium of Hadley Arkes, Susannah Black ’99 claims Arkes taught her to deplore “unjustified or vague premises and muddled reasoning,” reading which she compares to “witnessing a slow disaster.” I wonder if she has this reaction when she reads Arkes’ own arguments against marriage equality, in which he claims that sexual orientation is an unstable category “that may now include the bisexual, fetishistic, transvestic, zoophiliac (sex with animals).” Drawing legal conclusions from such “airy things that people are too delicate to describe, and too foggy to define,” he writes, may force us to allow a woman to marry her son or a man to marry his dog.
I am not surprised Black buys the idea that “if the argument worked … then the actual carrying out of any physical-world consequences was a sort of mopping-up operation.” Conservative scholars are often blind to the nitty-gritty details of actual citizens’ lives, things like homophobia. Black says Arkes taught her that legal rights derive from “human nature that was stable and not subject to willful redefinition, either by individuals or by societies.” That very argument was used in my lifetime to support segregation, just as today it is used against equal rights for lesbian and gay and, most recently, trans citizens. Arkes’ premise in his testimony in favor of DOMA in 1996 was based on a similar abstraction, the “natural teleology of the body.” Appeals to “human nature,” “moral realism” and “natural law” are often used to cause real harm to real people in real life: physical-world consequences. It is precisely these abstract concepts that are “airy things … too foggy to define.” Arkes has appealed to them consistently over his career to harm LGBTQ citizens, and it is unfortunate that he is praised in our college magazine.
Kevin Moss ’77
The article on Hadley Arkes fails to examine his more controversial contentions. Imagine you are gay and you encounter these words: “Do liberals want to break through conventions with ‘sex education’? Then education it should be: The life-shortening hazards of homosexual behavior should be conveyed, along with information about the other hazards of incautious sex; the record of conversions from homosexual life should be put in texts along with the inconclusive arguments over the ‘gay gene’” (Arkes in The Weekly Standard, May 23, 2005).
In years to come, Professor Arkes’ writings will continue to be part of America’s political dialogue, even far from Amherst. Here is a claim repeated by former Rep. Todd Akin: “the number of pregnancies resulting from rape in this country is minuscule [since] … the fear induced by rape may interrupt the normal operation of hormones in the body of the woman, which in turn may prevent ovulation and conception.” (Arkes, First Things: An Inquiry into the First Principles of Morals and Justice, 1986.)
As Professor Arkes retires, let us cast light on all of his scholarship. He would ask no less from his students.
Ernest Tito Craige ’70
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Not the Father
The latest issue of Amherst just arrived, and looks very good. But I take issue with the headline on your interesting piece about Grosvenor and the National Geographic. It’s a big-time overreach to call him the father of photojournalism. Mathew Brady and others from the Civil War certainly have a prior claim to the title, and so do many others both here in the U.S. and in Europe.
That said, a tip of the sombrero for the way you keep improving the quality of the magazine.
Claude E. Erbsen ’59
New York City
Life on the First Coed Floor
The cross-generational alumni friendship Mark Rigg ’89 described in “A College in Common” (Point of View, Summer 2016) painted a lovely portrait of how he and Robert Snedeker ’49 shared an educational connection across four decades of age difference. Mark’s essay brought me up short, however, when he wrote that as they compared experiences, “I would try to shock him with my stories of being on the first-ever coed hall.”
Sorry, Mark, but you were probably in second grade when I lived on Amherst’s first coed hall in 1974. There were 13 women on campus that fall out of 1,300 students, and a few Amherst “coeds” lived on the mostly male third floor in South (or was it North?). As the only one from a coed school (Wesleyan), I lobbied administrators for amenities so a coed hall with one bathroom could work—like shower curtains and an enclosure for the urinals—because our male hallmates wouldn’t abide by the “Women Only” sign that hung on the bathroom door.
Our hall’s culture was probably unlike Mark’s hall. Male-female friendships were rare at Amherst in that era when road-tripping, dating and mixers were the norm; resident women were not part of the picture. While the guys on my hall were friendly, I used to say that if I died in the dorm on Friday afternoon, no one would notice until Monday!
Coming from Wesleyan to Amherst in 1974 was like time-traveling to the late ’60s, when elite men’s schools first considered coeducation. The community was divided and on edge as we awaited the board of trustees’ vote, uncertain about how admitting women would change the College’s established culture and traditions.
It was fun to pioneer the coed hall, celebrate the vote and now see pre-coeducation alumni revel in their daughters’ and granddaughters’ opportunity to carry on the Amherst legacy.
Cynthia M. Ulman
(Wesleyan class of ’75)
Mill Valley, Calif.
Remembering Professor Hawkins
I read with sadness of the death of history and American studies professor Hugh Hawkins (In Memory, Summer 2016). As my thesis adviser, Professor Hawkins was a steady and reliable supporter. He encouraged my efforts to connect with a broad range of people and helped me secure a grant to travel to the Mississippi Delta, where I visited the small town founded by Isaiah Montgomery, the controversial African-American leader from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout my yearlong study of Montgomery, Professor Hawkins helped me to discover the joy of research and writing.
Yet his impact went well beyond that. One day in November, we were walking across campus when he asked me, “So, what history graduate schools are you applying to for next year?” At the time, I was focused on going to medical school; I had not even imagined history graduate school. His question jarred me into rethinking my assumptions about what I should do with my life. I ended up applying for teaching jobs in independent schools. Twenty-plus years later, I am the head of an independent elementary school.
Professor Hawkins’ ability to see something in me that I didn’t see in myself helped me to step off of the path I was on—a path tied to what I thought I should do with my life, not what I was passionate about doing—and explore other possibilities. The power of his question has stayed with me throughout my career, reminding me that our influence on others happens in fleeting moments and at unexpected times. I strive to be present in each moment, as I never know how my engagement, or lack of engagement, might influence someone’s life.
Professor Hawkins was a mentor, an inspiration and a kind, generous man. He will be missed.
Mark Silver ’93
Los Gatos, Calif.
On the Octagon Wall
The Spring 2016 article on the Octagon mural (“History on the Wall,” College Row) asked for help in identifying three people pictured in the mural. Thank you to those who informed us that one of those three is the late Sidney Davis ’73, pictured in the mural’s top left corner. Davis co-chaired Black Alumni Weekend 2008 and was a key member of its committee for many years.
Bob Glickman ’60 co-authored the Summer 2016 In Memory piece for Bob Ittel ’60. Because of a formatting error, Dr. Glickman’s name appears not at the end of Mr. Ittel’s remembrance, as it should, but instead in blue type at the start of the remembrance for Stephen Bunker Rohrbaugh ’60. This makes it appear as though Dr. Glickman is among the deceased. Please be assured that he is very much alive. We apologize for the error.